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February 24, 2016
Businesses are always on the lookout for developments in the law so they can learn how they may be affected. One particular law suit that has peaked businesses’ interest has been progressing through the courts for the last six years—and may finally be approaching a conclusion. It is a fascinating case and one that has implications for businesses across Georgia, their employees, and for society.
Jennifer Chavez was a man when Credit Nation Auto Sales in Austell (a suburb of Atlanta) hired her as a mechanic. In the original lawsuit, Ms. Chavez reported that her employers and co-workers were supportive of her decision to change genders— for a limited time. It was reported that her discussion of the reassignment process and the changes she was undergoing caused discomfort to other employees. First, she began wearing a dress and heels in the work area. Then, there was the restroom problem. Although she was employed as a mechanic, Ms. Chavez refused to use the separate restroom for mechanics. She insisted on using the cleaner one that was reserved for customers. The final straw for her employees arrived when she fell asleep in the back of a car. She was fired for sleeping at work and time theft.
The law suit is ongoing and complicated. The original EEOC discrimination charge Ms. Chavez filed for was sex discrimination due to gender identity. It was rejected because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did not cover discrimination due to gender identity. The termination for sleeping on the job was upheld. The employer had previously fired another worker for doing this, and the court held that it had not attempted to use the charge to cover a termination based on Ms. Chavez’s gender reassignment. On the contrary, the company had been supportive of her. Employers should be aware that the state of Georgia does not protect employees from discrimination based on gender identity. However, Atlanta does provide this protection, which is also developing through case law.
In the 2011 law suit of Glenn v Brumby, the 11th Circuit upheld a ruling of the lower court where a transgender woman had her employment terminated after she confided her gender transition to her supervisor. This ruling confirmed that firing a person for non-conformity to gender is quite definitively discriminatory. This case provides greater legal protection for transgender employees and those undergoing the transition in Georgia.
The Chavez law suit continues. The recent judgment of the 11th circuit in January has now held that there is in fact circumstantial evidence that supports Ms. Chavez’s claim that the company wanted to terminate her employment due to her gender reassignment. She asserts she was told not to wear a dress when arriving and leaving work, and not to discuss her transition. When her assigned was completed, she alleges that the company refused to allow her to use the unisex bathroom used by female employees.
Now the case is finally going to trial, and whether the final judgment is in favor of Ms. Chavez or Credit Nation will have reverberations for gender bias, employment, and discrimination law across Georgia.
Want to learn more about discrimination and sexual harassment laws? Keep reading here.